Every season there’s one team in Serie A that pushes above their weight and vies for European football among the league’s elite. With Lazio, Milan and Roma all fighting for top four this year, they all seem to have forgotten about Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta and Marco Giampaolo’s Sampdoria. Both sides have been in excellent form playing impressive football and have now entered the Champions League race without making too much of a fuss. Right now, the five teams are separated by a mere three points going into a crucial stage of the season.
Led by the eternal Fabio Quagliarella, who has now scored in 11 consecutive games equalling Gabriel Batistuta’s record in the process, Sampdoria find themselves just two points back behind fourth place Milan. Giampaolo has been able to get the most out of his men in his preferred ‘Christmas Tree’ formation (4-3-1-2) and has since attracted interest from the peninsula’s elite for his good work. Insisting on possession football and building patiently, the blucerchiati have dominated the opposition at times, and have proven to be a match for any team in the league.
While Quagliarella is the one bagging the goals, the impressive work done by midfield dynamos Dennis Praet and Karol Linetty should not go unnoticed. Juventus loanee Emil Audero has also manned the sticks wonderfully in his debut season in Serie A, especially with the veteran presence of Lorenzo Tonelli in front of him.
Atalanta, on the other hand, have played some explosive football this season and lead the league in scoring with 47 goals. In fact, gli Orobici have found the back of the net 16 times in their last four league games, three of which coming most recently in their comeback against Roma on the weekend. With Duvan Zapata flanked by Alejandro Gomez and Josip Ilicic, Gasperini’s side posses arguably one of the world’s most underrated front-lines. Zapata is currently on 15 goals on the season and has now scored in Atalanta’s last nine games in all competitions.
Despite losing Bryan Cristante to Roma this summer and consistently selling their best players to Italy’s elite, Gasperini still manages to keep Atalanta competitive and go toe-to-toe with the league’s finest regularly. Contrary to old-school Italian tactics, the former Genoa boss deploys a highly offensive 3-4-3 and aims to press the opposition high in hopes of forcing a turnover in a dangerous area. Armed with industrious wing-backs in Hans Hateboer and Robin Gosens, Gasperini is able to give his side the defensive cover they seek.
Over the last few years, Gasperini has built the blueprint for the side’s success, irrespective of the players at his disposal. Atalanta are still a side filled with talent in key areas, but the Italian tactician doesn’t rely on individual brilliance and can swap out just about any player in his eleven for another. Today, Atalanta find themselves just three points off fourth, and would have been closer had it not been for a tumultuous start to the season.
While at the end of the day it’s usually the likes of Lazio, Roma or Milan that claim the fourth spot, Atalanta and Sampdoria serve as the reminder that, regardless of budget and wage bill, the league’s provinciali are still alive and well. Only time will tell if either is rewarded for their bravery and continued self-belief.
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